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The Korean Approach To Facials

It’s no surprise that Koreans consider facials to be absolutely vital to their skin health and looks. What might surprise you, though, is that the facial itself isn’t always the most important part—the neck and shoulder massage that’s administered during is just as vital (and in some cases, even more than the facial itself).

Here in the States, an anemic, low-watt shoulder rub might be given to help pass the time as a mask sets or as a preview to see if the facial-ee wants to tack a more earnest one onto the bill. The Korean approach is a little different. Not only does a rubdown come pretty standard, it’s given in a holistic effort to energize and relax the receiver, to brighten the skin, and to slim the face—even though it’s actually treating an area besides the face.


That’s the approach specifically of Spa the El in Seoul, where a basic brightening facial comes with six steps and one of the best neck-and-shoulder massages in town, all for 100,000 won (about $85). The massage can include a range of globally-sourced techniques, from traditional deep-tissue massage to Swedish kneading to the more active, undulating rhythm of the “lomi lomi” style. Gyungrack is the pressing technique used to correct all the joints and limbs bent and slouched by less than perfect computer-worshipping posture.

Park Jeong Hwan, Director of the spa, thinks the combination is perfectly suited to the whole-body approach the spa takes to massage. “We don’t think of massage as treating just one area of the body,” she says. “Everything’s connected, so there’s no way you can neglect the muscles and skin around your neck, shoulders, and body—you have to take care of them all together.”

The idea is that all the muscles in the body benefit from the increased blood flow and circulation that massage offers. This increased circulation comes with generally ameliorating fringe benefits. “Your face will look brighter, your muscle will be more relaxed and elongated, and your neck will look longer,” says Park. “The tone of your skin will even be better.”

The back is a specific area of focus—it’s seen as sort of the heart (or at least the nexus) of the muscular web. What happens in the back radiates everywhere. “Muscles are attached from your back. If you have tension in your shoulders, your shoulders are raised, and your muscles along the face also get pressed/pulled down. If you massage your back, the muscles will becoming elongated and there will be a lifting effect,” says Park. “ Even your face will be lifted.”

This is all well and good for the Korean women who benefit from these regular neck-slimming-included maintenance facials. What about the rest of the world? Well, there are a few free options you can do on yourself from the comfort of your own bathroom/shower/gym/walk-in closet/kitchen.



First, make sure you’re doing double-duty when you double-cleanse. “When you’re washing your face, do a massage to help with circulation,” says Park. “It doesn’t take much more time and you will look brighter.” Sold? Here what to do: “Press gently on the pressure points all along your eyebrow, under eye, and underneath your cheekbones. Do this during the cleansing step, so you can glide your fingers easily from point to point easily.” Make sure to pay extra attention around your jawline, where tension can build up. And remember, no tugging. Only gentle, fluid pressure.

Speaking of fluid, all this massage can have a positively draining (in a good way), slimming effect on the face and body, helping create that aforementioned lift. The problem, as Park sees it, is that pesky law of entropy. “Bodies always wants to go back to their original state, so it’s important to keep coming back,” she says. “You can’t just get a massage once in awhile and see [permanent] results.”


But don’t book your next session just yet—Park maintains it’s the way you take care of yourself in between facials that makes all the difference. Her first rule is never to go back to your computer screen after a massage: “You can create tension in your back again. It’ll feel like you never got a massage,” she says (no argument here). Second, to keep your body drained of stored-up fluid, Park recommends lymphatic massage techniques, including simple stretches. Here’s what to do: Stand up and raise your hands over your hands for five seconds (you can hold a towel in your hands if you want, and breathe in and out.

So what’s exactly happening here? “Lymph nodes [under your armpits] actually get affected by subtle movements. You don’t want pressure on them, just subtle massaging; very light touches.” And those light touches, Park notes, can make a big difference. If a full body stretch is out of the question, stay in your chair and rotate your feet, letting that ankle get full rotation. Then press your feet to the ground, and lift them gently off again. “It increases circulation,” says Park. The more blood flow everywhere, the better. That’s the idea here, anyway. And what happens elsewhere in the body, even at the actual ground level, can affect your face. So get rotating, everybody. Pronto.

In Seoul? Visit Spa The El at 570-3 Sinsa-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul 6th Floor. (Appointments only, 02-549-3949) 서울특별시 강남구 신사동 570-3 서천빌딩 6층 601호


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